The in situ localization of osteoblast/osteocyte factor 45 (OF45) mRNA during bone formation has been examined in the rat mandible from embryonic day 14 (E14) up to postnatal 90-day-old Wistar rats. Gene expression was also examined during cell culture not only in primary rat osteoblast-like cells but also in two clonal rat osteoblastic cell lines with different stages of differentiation, ROB-C26 (C26) and ROB-C20 (C20) using Northern blot analysis. The C26 cell is a potential osteoblast precursor cell line, whereas the C20 cell is a more differentiated osteoblastic cell line. At E15 osteoblast precursor cells differentiated into a group of osteoblasts, some of which expressed the majority of non-collagenous proteins, whereas no expression of OF45 was observed in these cells. Intercellular matrices surrounded by osteoblasts were mineralized at E16. Subsequently, the number of osteoblasts differentiated from osteoblast precursor cells was increased in association with bone formation. At E17, the first expression of OF45 mRNA was observed only in a minority of mature osteoblasts attached to the bone matrix, but not in the rest of less mature osteoblasts. At E20, concomitant with the appearance of osteocytes, OF45 mRNA expression was observed not only in more differentiated osteoblasts that were encapsulated partly by bone matrix but also in osteocytes. Subsequently, osteocytes increased progressively in number and sustained OF45 mRNA expression in up to 90-day-old rats. Northern blot analysis of the cultured cells with or without dexamethasone treatment revealed that the gene expression of OF45 correlated well with the increased cell differentiation. These results indicate that OF45 mRNA is transiently expressed by mature osteoblasts and subsequently expressed by osteocytes throughout ossification in the skeleton and this protein represents an important marker of the osteocyte phenotype and most likely participates in regulating osteocyte function.